1946 NL Pennant? It’s in the Cards

Sunday, August 25, 1946, Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, first game of a doubleheader between the St Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Enos Slaughter and the batboy at right come to congratulate Stan Musial after he just clouted a solo homer in the 4th inning, off young Ralph Branca, to go ahead of the Brooks 2-1. The dejected catcher is rookie Bruce Edwards.

This was a big day for Cardinal baseball in 1946, and a virtual sellout, as the Brooklyn Dodgers came into town for a first place showdown – after the Cardinals were behind Brooklyn as much as 7 1/2 games earlier in the season, they heated up after the All-Star break, and both were now tied atop the NL as the day began. And Stan The Man was certainly up to the task – after a year off for military service, he was ready to again dominant the NL, and was flying high in ’46, eventually winning the MVP by leading the league in most offensive categories (except, ironically, HRs and RBIs). And the Cards sure liked their chances in Game 1 – Branca, only a spot-starter in ’46, was facing the Cardinals All-Star ace lefty Howie Pollet, who would eventually pace the NL in wins and ERA. Fortunately for Brooklyn, the wily Branca held his own, and although he was lifted in the 6th after the Cards tied it at 2-2, a parade of relievers deftly held the Redbirds scoreless from there; and as pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto broke the stalemate to single in the go-ahead run in the 9th off Pollet, who went all the way in the loss, the Dodgers prevailed 3-2, moving up a full game on the locals.

However, the Cardinals and Musial weren’t about to let Brooklyn gain any more ground in their home park, and busted out early in the second game, knocking Joe Hatten out of the box with none retired in the first, and didn’t stop there, building a 10-0 lead after 6 innings, with MVP Stan going 4 for 5 to highlight the Redbirds’ attack. The Dodgers did storm back, scoring 4 in the 7th and 4 more in the 8th to get to within 11-8, but they were running out of time – darkness was approaching, and although Sportsman’s Park had had lights installed in 1940, the rules of the day did not allow for a day game to be continued into night with the aid of lighting – so when the Cardinals decided to score 3 more runs in the bottom of the 8th, the last vestige of daylight was exhausted, and the game was called after 8 innings due to darkness – and the Cardinals regained a first place tie with the visitors, thanks to at least a little help from Mother Nature. So after 6 hours of NL titans doing battle in front of a full house of rabid Cardinal fans, one more or less a pitching duel, the other a slugfest, the result was a No Decision, or as the NY Times put it, “Condition unchanged, patient still feverish”. The Dodgers had two more games in St. Louis in the series, and split those, leaving town still tied for first.

It turned out that each game did matter from here on in, as the Dodgers and Cardinals continued to battle down the stretch, and they both ended the season in a flat-flooted tie, surprisingly, for the first time in baseball history. There would be a 3-game playoff to decide the pennant, which oddly enough, had many parallels to that August stalemate doubleheader.

The first playoff game was held in St. Louis. The pitching matchup? Ralph Branca vs Howie Pollet. Lady luck had spun the same combination as back in August, and would the stars again line up for the Dodgers against the Cardinals’ ace? As it turned out, Pollet again allowed 2 runs in the middle innings, but didn’t give up that 3rd run in the 9th, and went on to notch his 21st win of the season (the first time being able to go beyond the usual amount of games to add to one’s season totals), and Branca didn’t get out of the 3rd inning, ironically suffering his first loss of the entire season, and the Cardinals took the first game 4-2.

The second game moved to Brooklyn, and, pitching for the Dodgers: Joe Hatten, the Game 2 goat back on that summer’s day in St. Louis. Hatten did make it out of the first inning this time, but not much further, as the Cardinals had 5 runs by the 5th inning, and the pennant was more or less lost, although the Brooks had the bases loaded in the 9th down 8-4, but Howie Schultz struck out to give the title to the Redbirds.

Ironically, although the Dodgers lost a tough pennant battle in the campaign of 1946, that year set the stage for the future, and young stars such as Branca, Reese, and rookie Carl Furillo (not to mention the addition of Jackie Robinson in 1947) would lead Brooklyn to many years of success in the late ’40’s and ’50’s, including the pennant in 1947 and 6 within the next 10 years, while for the Cardinals, although Stan Musial was one of the best players in the league in the late ’40’s and ’50’s, 1946 was the last hurrah for the Redbirds until the 1960’s.


Whitey Kurowski, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion and Stan Musial

Ironically, Howie Pollet would lose Game 1 of the ’46 World Series, and was removed due to injury in Game 5, although the Cardinals did win the World Championship in 7 games over the Red Sox – who would not win a title until almost a half century later.

Joe Hatten, who actually had a pretty good year in 1946, would rebound to go 17-8 for the pennant winners in 1947 and continue to be an effective starter for Brooklyn, although did poorly in the spotlight of both the 1947 and 1949 World Series.

An interesting footnote regards Brooklyn catcher Bruce Edwards; he had just been called up in June, but became the Dodgers starting catcher right away, and for the rest of the season. He would go on to play a career high 130 games as the Brooklyn catcher in 1947 (one of his backups would be none other than rookie Gil Hodges, who thankfully moved to first the following year), but the breaking of the color line relegated him to part-time status in 1948 with the emergence of Roy Campanella. He would remain Campy’s backup through mid-1951, when he was traded to the Cubs. He remained a part-timer for the rest of his career.

And one final note: The next time the National League ended in a tie, necessitating a playoff, was in 1951, with one Ralph Branca also involved. Let’s just say Branca winning playoff games was never in the cards.

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #5 – Sportsman’s Park

In 1937, Ed Burns, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, penned a series of articles on every major league park at the time (15 articles in all, of 16 parks for 16 teams; the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, while the Indians played in both League Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium that year, with one article for both), which were also published in the Sporting News that year.

A very interesting series, especially from the perspective of 1937, and the hand-drawn diagrams of interesting plays and quirks of each park are wonderful. I’ll post them in order of when they were originally published, and one at a time to make things interesting. Click the Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks category link to the right to see all the articles together.

Fifth in the series, Sportsman’s Park, home to both the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns. How about roosters and hens to eat all the insects that would plague the field, and the only place in MLB you can get a hot dog that is broiled instead of “soaked”?

Dizzy Bean

Dizzy Dean is known today as the outstanding Cardinals pitcher from the 30’s, but also became popular due to his unique, homespun personality. He really didn’t rise to fame until the 1934 season, where he won 30 games for the NL champs – but in using his “head” in the 1934 World Series, he became a baseball folk hero for all time.

Even most casual baseball fans have heard of the supposed headline after St. Louis Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean got hit on the head by a thrown ball in Game 4 of the 1934 World Series, in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis – “X-Rays Of His Head Revealed Nothing”. Most sources state it came from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day, while there seems to be nothing to indicate that that is so. Also, a recent published post about Dean by the Post-Dispatch alluded to another paper entirely, and not their own. In any event, it’s part of the legend of the story, which has grown a little hazy with time, especially due to the fact that there is very little in the way of photographs of the incident that exist, or at least are not readily available. The one above, which appears to be the closest shot known, seemed to be the only one publicly available, until recently.

The most known visual is from the 1934 World Series highlight reel, which has a good overview of the incident, at 2:08, until about 2:27:

And here now are a few AP press shots that have recently been found (click photos for slightly larger versions):

Fascinating to see the incident from this angle. And how did he get beaned all the way out there you ask? Well, Dean (somewhat foolishly, in hindsight) was put in as a pinch runner, and stormed into second to break up a double play, and he did alright – the shortshop’s toss to first plunked him right in the noggin. New York Times articles on the incident, including Manager Frisch took a lot of heat for putting Dean in:

In any event, they did score the tying run on that play, and Dizzy was able to recover enough to pitch Game 5 – but was he 100%? Turns out he lost that game, putting the Cardinals down 3-2 in the series going to Detroit, but with his brother Daffy (Paul) Dean able to hold off the Tigers in Game 6, Dizzy stormed back in Game 7 and twirled a complete game shutout to win the championship for St Louis. As one paper noted, it was “A Dizzy spell in Detroit”, and he made of the Tigers “a fine animal rug for the Dean homestead.”

Dizzy would not return to the World Series until 1938 with the Cubs, by then hampered by injury, and the Cardinals themselves wouldn’t return until the 1940’s – but the “Gashouse Gang” of the 1934 World Series, along with Dizzy Dean, will always have a unique place in the annals of baseball lore.

A Moment In Time – 5/17/64

Sunday, May 17, 1964, Milwaukee Braves vs St. Louis Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park (renamed Busch Stadium by then). 1st game of a doubleheader, bottom of the 2nd inning, Eddie Matthews, in a rare start at first base, gets Dick Groat by a half-step to retire the side, as 2B Frank Bolling (behind Groat) looks on. Cards just went up 3-0 in the frame on home runs by Bill White and Tim McCarver, and then an unearned run started by a catcher’s interference by Joe Torre.

Matthews only played first base in 7 games for the Braves that year (after having only played 1B for a few games in 1962), and interestingly, would not play the position again until he moved there virtually full-time in 1967, after the franchise had already moved on to Atlanta. Rookie Phil Niekro would come in in the 8th inning here and pitch his last of 10 games in 1964 (giving up a couple of runs on a Groat triple), before he went back to the minors to give that knuckleball more seasoning. He would stick in 1965.

Cardinals would go on to win this first game 7-3, but lost the nightcap, 4-2, dropping them to 1.5 games behind the NL-leading Giants, who were sweeping a doubleheader from the Mets.

Even then it was a long season, but every game counts. Good thing the Redbirds had their hitting shoes on for this first game – the Cardinals would go on to win the NL Pennant by only one game over both the Reds and surprisingly the Phillies, who would complete the biggest late-season collapse in modern MLB history until the 2000’s (Braves finished 5 off the pace), and took the Series in 7 over the end-of-dynasty Yankees.

Veeck – as in wrecked?

I’ve already had an earlier post about the crazy genius Bill Veeck in this blog’s youth, and I expect to have a few more. This was probably one of his better promotions, which seemed to get a little crazier as he got older.

Veeck made the Cleveland Indians a quick success after becoming owner of the club in 1946 (first AL black player, Larry Doby, in 1947, and a championship in 1948), but it would be short-lived; after getting divorced in 1949, he had to sell the Tribe to fund the settlement, but wouldn’t stay on the sidelines for long.

Veeck remarried in 1951, and then promptly purchased 80% ownership in the St. Louis Browns. The Browns would be a tough test for the budding marketing whiz, as the Cardinals shared the same park, and were far more popular. His first moves were to hire legendary Cardinals Rogers Hornsby (as manager) and Dizzy Dean (as an announcer), although Veeck fired Hornsby by June.

Thinking of more ideas to get fans into the ballpark, Veeck held a “Drink On The House” Night at Sportsman’s, July 1951. In a press photo below, Veeck is seen himself passing out free brews to the surprised Browns’ faithful. Somehow, I can’t imagine Fred Wilpon coming down the aisle at Citi Field to hand me a free Brooklyn Lager any time soon.

It was actually a good way to get the word out about one of the local beer sponsors, Falstaff, St. Louis’ own. The label below is the same as on the beers above, and below that, a Falstaff beer ad with ol’ Diz.

Either way, it seems to have worked out better than future Veeck promotions, which grew increasingly unusual. Only a month later was the famous Eddie Gaedel game, in which Veeck used the services of a “little person” to go up for an at-bat for the Browns (he walked).

Unfortunately, Veeck’s grandstanding would have little effect, and he himself would be largely responsible for the demise of the St. Louis Browns. When beer giant Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1952, with endless resources, Veeck knew the writing was on the wall, and looked to bidders to move the franchise. Milwaukee was the first choice, but the Boston Braves beat them to it, so the next choice was Baltimore – and Veeck planned on remaining majority owner, but the other owners were not very keen on it, and voted him down, so he sold the team anyway, and the Orioles were born.

Veeck would go on to bring success to the Chicago White Sox (during two tenures), but also more unusual ideas, both good and bad, including introducing the famous exploding scoreboard in Comiskey Park and putting players’ names on their uniforms for the first time, both in 1960, and later the infamous “shorts” uniform from the 1970’s, the beginning of Harry Caray (then White Sox announcer) singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and last but not least, Disco Demolition Night in 1979, in which disco records were blown up on the field, and resulted in a near riot and the forfeit of the second game of a doubleheader by the White Sox.

Veeck finally sold the White Sox in 1981 and retired from baseball, passing away in 1986. He is responsible for many of the craziest things that have happened on a baseball field, and I’d have to admit, baseball history would be a lot less interesting without him.